Metz had long been a key fortress, and its defenses faced in both directions. The strongest defenses actually faced west. As part of the prewar French Maginot Line fortress system, Metz had an inner circle of 15 forts and a perimeter defense of 28 steel and cement bastions. The Germans had added a number of 210 mm and 105 mm guns in revolving steel turrets, which could withstand direct fire. The defense of Metz was entrusted to Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) Heinrich Kittel's 14,000-man 462nd Volksgrenadier Division.
On 10 September, 12th Army Group's commander, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, ordered Patton's Third Army to advance toward Mainz and Mannheim, Germany. With little knowledge of the fortifications in his path, Patton assigned the capture of Metz to Major General Walton Walker's XX Corps. Walker ordered the 5th and 90th Infantry Divisions, supported by the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion, to take the fortress. The American attack on the outer ring of the German defenses began on 27 September, with 5th Division carrying the brunt of the attack.
Without major preparations, the Americans mounted a frontal assault into the area of greatest German strength and were repulsed. Even the addition of a combat command of the 7th Armored Division failed to dislodge the Germans. The battle then disintegrated into a protracted siege, similar to the static warfare of World War I. Fall rains worsened conditions, turning the ground to mud. Although air support was called in, 500 lb bombs had little effect on the German fortifications. The Americans utilized smoke screens as they moved to take the villages around the forts, but all attempts in September and early October to take the fortress failed, and the rains continued amid mounting American casualties. Patton's efforts were also handicapped by the shift in logistics support to the north for Operation market-garden, the failed effort to secure a crossing over the Rhine at Arnhem.
Between 3 and 15 October, the 5th Infantry Division again tried to take the forts through direct assault but failed. The centerpiece of that effort was Fort Driant, the newest and most powerful of the Metz forts. In addition to infantry and tank destroyers, Walker employed 23 battalions of artillery. The assaulting infantry battalion took 50 percent casualties before the attack was canceled.
Third Army was reequipped and resupplied for the November general offensive, and XX Corps was reinforced by the addition of the 95th Infantry and 10th Armored Divisions. The offensive opened on 9 November with a diversionary attack by the 95th Infantry Division on Maizi?res-les-Metz, distracting the German defenders. Walker then slipped his 90th Infantry and 10th Armored Divisions farther north and crossed the Moselle River, taking Fort Königsmacker. The forces then captured Forts Valstrofe and Distroff. The 90th Infantry Division now closed on Metz from the north, the 95th Infantry from the west and northwest, and the 5th Infantry Division from the south and southwest. This time, the Americans abandoned costly frontal assaults in favor of bypassing strong points and then reducing them with demolition charges.
The first American troops entered Metz on 17 November. The Germans managed to remove some of their defenders from the city, in defiance of Adolf Hitler's orders that it be held to the last, until the escape hatch was closed by the linkup of the 5th Infantry and 90th Infantry Divisions east of Metz on19 November. Although Metz surrendered two days later, some Germans chose to obey Hitler and fight on. The last Metz fort, Jeanne d'Arc, did not surrender until 13 December. Following the fall of Metz, the next U.S. objective was the Siegfried Line.
Gene Mueller and Spencer C. Tucker
Cole, Hugh M. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations: The Ardennes. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1965.; Ellis, Lionel F. Victory in the West II. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1962.; MacDonald, Charles. United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations—The Last Offensive. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1973.; Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.